Golden Circle, Pt. 2

One hour later, we pulled up to the Geysir geothermal area. We could see the steam as we walked across the road to the entrance, our feet crunching in the dark gravel.

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Hello, hot springs!

Thanks to the heat from the hot springs, I started feeling toasty enough to unzip my jacket. And the air smelled purely of sulfur; I couldn’t stop thinking of omelets!

This area’s namesake, Geysir, actually doesn’t erupt very often, but its neighbor, Strokkur, goes off every ten minutes or so. Ted and I made our way to it, carefully following the path that wove between the bubbling pools.

When we arrived, Strokkur was bubbling cheerfully. We chose the one spot that was free of other tourists and stood there, congratulating ourselves on our front-row seats.

Then it erupted. The water shot up, up, up…giving me just enough time to realize what was about to happen. Propelled by some inner instinct, I turned on my heel and tried to run to safety; Ted planted his feet and took more pictures as the water came down, down down…

Our chosen viewing spot hadn’t been claimed by other tourists for a reason: it was the splash zone! We were soaked afterwards.

Talk about having egg on one’s face!

 

Thanks for reading,

Emme

 

Golden Circle, Pt. 1

The Golden Circle is a great route if you only have a day to explore Iceland properly. It covers three of Iceland’s most stunning sights: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss.

It’s easy to navigate, too; if you type those three locations into Google, you get a triangular route that uses major roads the whole time. (There are also guided tours available for the Golden Circle, but we opted to go it alone so we wouldn’t feel rushed.)

When we pulled up to Þingvellir’s main entrance, it was already drizzling, with heavy cloud cover. Nice and chilly. I was in heaven.

Thanks to the region’s geology, the park’s entrance is marked by two towering walls of rock.

The rock wall to the left just keeps going and going and going…while the wall on the right eventually breaks up a bit, revealing the rest of the valley.

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Nerd that I am, I kept thinking of Skyrim — doesn’t this look like the area around Whiterun?

As we were short on time, we didn’t hike down into the valley. Instead we kept making our way along the path.

And then, finally, we came across a trail that led upward, through an opening in the rock wall. The sound of roaring water got louder and louder as we made our way around the corner.

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Oh, hello there

With only four other people sharing the area with us, it was easy to quietly take in the sight.

Thanks for the great morning, Þingvellir.

And thank you for reading,

Emme

 

 

Sólfar

After visiting Brauð & Co. one morning, I wanted to see the ocean. So I headed down the hill instead of walking back up toward Hallgrimskirkja.

This meant that I ran right into Sólfar.

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Sólfar

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In 1986, Reykjavík celebrated its 200th anniversary. There was an outdoor sculpture contest to honor the event, and Sólfar (or Sun Voyager), designed by Icelandic artist Jón Gunnar Árnason, won. The city installed the sculpture in 1990 and it’s been there ever since.

I actually ended up sitting nearby for over an hour, just looking at the landscape and listening to the water. It’s a peaceful spot.

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Panorama of the area

Thanks for reading,

Emme

Snorkeling in Silfra Fissure

“Don’t hit the walls. Don’t lift your head up too high. Keep your hands on your back — the current will carry you.”

Three simple instructions. I kept marveling at that simplicity as I walked with the rest of the group along a trail in Þingvellir National Park. With a dry suit wrapped tightly around my limbs, neck, and torso, it was difficult to move quickly. I also had my snorkeling gear — goggles and a pair of flippers — tucked under one arm, making my gait look even odder.

We were all eager to get started. It had taken an hour — and a lot of jumping and strange contortions — to get into the dry suits.

Our three guides stopped us once we were all on the metal platform that led directly into Silfra. Shockingly clear water lapped at our legs while we put on our goggles and flippers. Our guides reminded us again: “Don’t hit the walls. Don’t lift your head up too high. Keep your hands on your back.”

Two by two, we walked straight into the water.

The dry suit did its job — if my face and hands hadn’t been exposed, I wouldn’t have known the water was cold at all. My face started to sting, then went numb shortly afterwards. And, as long as I didn’t move my hands, my own body heat would warm up the water in my gloves, keeping them safe during the 40-minute trip. Easy-peasy.

Although there was some bottle-necking to deal with at first. Nothing knocks you out of a peaceful reverie like a flipper to the face! The owner of that flipper kept kicking me as we both struggled to create some space between us (whoops).

Once that problem had been solved, I found peace again. The current kept gently carrying me downstream, letting me marvel at the view below me. Thanks to the how clear the water was, every rock and plant was visible.

The Silfra fissure is actually the only spot where you can dive or snorkel directly between two continental plates (North American and Eurasian). I had a great view because the water’s so cold and clean that the underwater visibility is over 100 meters. (The view in the “Silfra Cathedral” section was particularly impressive — easily my favorite moment of the journey).

Soon I became aware that I had drifted a bit outside of the water’s current and was headed for the closest wall of the fissure. My left hand barely grazed the stones, but I still mentally gulped as I frantically paddled away from the wall. I kept using my hands to move away until I was back in the middle, where I belonged.

I managed to avoid breaking the final rule until just after we had entered the Lagoon — the final leg of the journey. We had to swim against the slight current in order to reach the Lagoon (rather than continuing downstream to the lake, where a helicopter would have to rescue us). Once I was past that current, I lifted my head and reached up to empty out my goggles, which had just filled up with water.

Right then, I breathed at the wrong moment and water rushed down the wrong pipe. Cue the gasping and coughing and hacking and flailing.

I saw one of the guides making a circular motion with his hands as he swam toward me. Flip over. Flip over.

I flipped over onto my back, still coughing. All three guides quickly reached me and floated there, monitoring me until I got my breath back.

My heart wouldn’t stop pounding. But I knew I was starting to recover once my mind went from thinking oh shit oh shit oh shit on repeat to, I just had to be that tourist, didn’t I? Brilliant.

“Simple,” I finally said. “It was a simple set of instructions.”

After we had a good laugh, the guides asked if I wanted to get out. I nodded, so one of the guides gently grabbed my arm and started pulling me toward the exit stairs.

Then another guide jokingly asked me to pose for a picture. I flipped onto my front again, laughing, my face still covered in snot and tears. Very photogenic!

And when I walked out of the Lagoon, I stopped long enough to take a proper sip of the water. Silfra’s so clean that you can drink the water at any point, but I wanted that experience to be on my terms at least once. Choking on that beautiful water didn’t count!

…The water tasted great, of course.

 

Thanks for reading,

Emme

 

P.S.

I booked this tour through Viator here. The actual company is called Arctic Adventures.

Kayaking on the Riverwalk

The first time I tried to go kayaking, in Portland, ME, the kayaking company canceled our trip. I had been thwarted by the weather — THANKS, RAIN.

That memory came back to me years later, on a beautiful Wednesday morning in Chicago, IL. The sun was shining…right up until I had made it to the Riverwalk. Ominous, grey clouds started to settle overhead. No rain yet, but the smell of the air suggested that that would change soon.

The folks at Urban Kayaks, to their immense credit, were apologetic and totally flexible. Probable rain meant probable lightning, so they couldn’t take the morning group out on the water. They suggested I come back in the afternoon and they’d squeeze me into another group.

So I came back in the afternoon and they squeezed me into another group. With the sun on our side again, it wasn’t long before we were all sitting in our kayaks, bobbing gently with the current.

While kayaking in the Chicago River, the only major obstacles are the boats. Our guide, Nathan, paddled on our left side at all times so we wouldn’t drift too far out into the middle of the river. He also had a radio so he could keep in contact with the docked boats, just in case they decided to start moving before we were finished paddling past them.

We set the pace and ended up being out on the water for a little under two hours. There was plenty of time to look up at the buildings from the strange, new perspective. And Chicago’s an eerily quiet city to begin with, so it was even more peaceful down on the water, away from the traffic up on the bridges.

The kayaking turned out to be my favorite part of the Chicago trip. If you’ve got a free morning on your hands, I’d highly recommend doing it.

And, now that I know I how to properly kayak…get ready, Portland, ME — I’m coming back for you one day!

Thanks for reading,

Emme

Food and Cheer in Reykjavík

With so many food options available, you don’t even need to know where to look to find something tasty to eat in Reykjavík. That being said, I wouldn’t want you to go there and miss eating at these five places…

Breakfast/Second Breakfast

The first morning Ted and I were there, a local took us to Brauð & Co., which he referred to as, “the best bakery in the world.” I raised my eyebrows a bit at that, but secretly wanted it to live up to the hype. (I am obsessed with bakeries — I once had a friend tell me that she didn’t want to meet me at pastry shops anymore. I hadn’t even realized that I always offered a bakery as a meetup point!)

Even so, as I walked into Brauð & Co., I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Ted and I ended up eating at Brauð & Co. each and every morning. We consumed a week’s worth of pastries. I tried everything on the menu at least once, if not twice.

And the workers at this bakery are delightful people. They actually go grab the freshest pastries straight off the rack –if they’re available– and give those to you instead of the ones sitting in the window.

Usually I like mixing up my food options when I travel so that I can try a ton of different things. Brauð & Co. is my one exception.

Elevenses/Lunch

Whenever we asked an Icelander what we needed to eat while we were in town, the answer was always: “a hot dog.” There are two major places to eat a hot dog in Reykjavík — several locals told us to go to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur and avoid Pylsuhúsið at all costs.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is a red-and-white hot dog cart down by the harbor. My hot dog had lamb on it, among other things. I bit into it and briefly saw God (or so it seemed — I definitely ascended for a brief moment, at least.)

I had a hot dog while I was in Chicago last week and sorry not sorry Chicago, but that hot dog paled in comparison to the Icelandic hot dog. It has no equal as far as I’m concerned.

Lunch/Afternoon Tea

If you’re still hungry after that hot dog…

I previously mentioned the fish and chips at The Drunk Rabbit, but it bears repeating. I’m used to being disappointed by the American version of fish and chips (lots of batter, very little fish, not served with vinegar), so BOY HOWDY was this a nice change of pace. Thin, crisp batter covering gigantic hunks of steaming fish? Count me in!

Dinner/Supper

Sjávargrillið is a good place to go if you’re looking to try some traditional Icelandic dishes. It’s expensive but well worth a visit!

Þrír frakkar is another option. It has more of a local/neighborhood feel to it, and it’s a small restaurant, so I’d recommend snagging a reservation ahead of time.

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I ordered a horse fillet (absolutely delicious) and split a helping of whale sashimi with Ted. (We both struggled with the whale because…morals. But curiosity finally won the day. For those curious, whale tastes like red meat and has an oily, guilt-ridden aftertaste.)

Now, go forth! Go forth and EAT.

And thanks for reading,

 

Emme

Hallgrímskirkja

I kept using Hallgrímskirkja as a visual point of reference in Reykjavík. It rests on top of a small hill, meaning that I could see it from Harpa Concert Hall, the Sun Voyager statue, and Hljómskálagarður (the park). And it’s a striking building, to say the least.

I decided to go up the tower while I was there (admissions is 900 ISK, but they’re flexible on the type of currency – thanks to my dwindling purse, I paid in a confusing jumble of ISK, Euros, and USD!)

One elevator ride later, I began making my way around the first floor of the tower, starting with the clock.

There are windows spaced evenly along the walls, giving everyone plenty of room to look out. (Although I was up there with only four other people, since we all got there the moment the church opened.)

Eventually I climbed the interior staircase to get even higher up. Then the picture-taking began.

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Thanks for reading,

 

Emme

Reykjavík – Drinks for the Thirsty

Thirsty? Reykjavík has got you covered.

 

Prikid.

Coffeeshop, bar, restaurant, nightclub: Prikid. We were told that Icelandic hip hop was born here.

Koffin

We actually visited Koffin multiple times. The bartenders were all very friendly and they served good drinks. Koffin’s also located in a nice spot, right where Laugavegur (major shopping street) turns into Bankastræti (another street).

The Drunk Rabbit

I always have to hit up an Irish pub when I’m traveling somewhere. There were, of course, drinks for the thirsty. (I also ordered the fish & chips and, honestly? I’ll be dreaming about those fish & chips for a good long while.)

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Bryggjan Brugghús

A brewery. We came in here at a weird hour (3 pm), which is why it looks so empty. This one’s down at the harbor — you can see the boats from the windows.

Sæta Svínið Gastropub

Clearly this is the place to try out a flight of Icelandic beers. It’s also where I had a shot of Brennivín (Iceland’s national drink, essentially).

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Walking all over Reykjavík can really work up a person’s appetite, too. Stay tuned.

 

Thanks for reading,

Emme

Reykjavik, Iceland

I also visited Reykjavik, Iceland this spring with my stepdad, Ted.

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Reykjavik, Iceland

May is a oddly good time to visit Reykjavik, so long as you don’t mind cloudy days. Ted and I discovered how great it is to just miss the tourism season (from June to August). We had an entire tour bus to ourselves at one point!

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Here I am standing near Reykjavik City Hall. Note the clouds and utter lack of people!

There are lots of locals in Reykjavik, of course. Icelanders are extremely friendly and kind — I have nothing but good things to say about their hospitality. On the first day we were there, a local stopped to chat with us right after we had gotten out of our rental car. He ended up leading us to a bakery about a mile away that has exquisite pastries. On another day, we talked to one Icelandic bartender for two hours. And a waitress and I bonded by talking about Eurovision.

And Reykjavik is so much fun to explore! There are all kinds of neat restaurants, pubs, and shops. Also, having grown up in Midwestern suburbia, where houses don’t vary very much, I was delighted to see all the different paint jobs and building styles. Just look at these buildings:

The city is quiet and easy to navigate. Whenever I needed to re-orient myself, I looked for Hallgrimskirkja (the cathedral), which lies uphill from most things in Reykjavik. It’s a great landmark.

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Hallgrimskirkja

On a random note: former New Yorker that I am, I noticed that no one had air conditioners sticking out of their windows. Several windows were cracked open, however, leading me to believe that Icelanders just let the weather do the job for them. (Considering that the temperature hovered around 20°C the whole time we were there, that makes sense, yeah?)

 

Stay tuned for more Icelandic wonder, and thanks for reading,

Emme

 

Central Park in the Spring

Now that we’re well into the summer season…I want to continue making a case for visiting New York in the spring. Summer has a lot of perks (like music festivals), but spring’s peaceful. Everything’s less crowded!

I could really tell the difference in Central Park. In the summer, it’s packed to capacity. In the spring, there’s plenty of wiggle-room for everyone.

Take the area around Bethesda Fountain as an example:

In the summer, this lake is PACKED with boats, and everyone else bustles around the fountain. It’s much quieter in the spring.

And do I even need to mention the weather? If you’re not afraid of getting rained on every now and then, spring can be lovely. New York summers are so hot. There are relatively few water fountains in Central Park, so that can get really taxing after a while.

I didn’t edit any of these photos, so you can see how cloudy it gets in the spring. Perfect strolling weather, in my opinion.

 

Thanks for reading,

Emme